GRACE

For some reason it has always been much easier for me to extend grace to everyone else but myself.  I find it very difficult to be my own best friend forgiving my imperfections and all of the things that I view as pure failures in my life.

During the last four years since the deaths of my husband and both parents, I have believed that God is disappointed in me.  I viewed the state I was in during my husband’s last few months as nothing short of broken faith filled with imperfections. When my mother died, my faith shattered into even more pieces if that is even possible.  Then as my father lay dying, I felt that I had come completely to the end of myself with no more possibility of a strong faith that could endure all that was happening in my life.

Being the oldest child and the only daughter in my family, I somehow got the idea that I needed to be as perfect as possible so that I not only could be a good example to my brothers, but so that I could please my parents and all of my family members.  I don’t remember ever being told this.  It’s something that seemed to be naturally engrained in me.  It made me happy and gave me a sense of accomplishment to do as much right as I possibly could.

Three months before I turned 38 years old I suddenly became very ill.  Everything that I was involved in whether it be socially or at church had to be immediately dropped.  My husband had to take over all of the shopping and errands.  Our four daughters ages 15, 14, 12 and 10 took over running our household because I was simply too ill to get out of bed.  This was devastating to my ideals of perfectionism.  It took two years before I received a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome or CFIDS/CFS as it is more commonly know.  This year I was further diagnosed with Lymes disease. There are still a lot of unknowns about both illnesses.  The challenges are many for your life changes drastically as you learn how to cope with it from day to day.

When I was 53, I became the caregiver for my husband who had been given a terminal diagnosis and was told he had 7-10 years to live. We chose to use alternative medicine which helped him to feel better than he had felt in years.  I spent many hours each day in special food and juice preparations.  My perfectionism was kicked into high gear.  My mind told me that I was responsible to do all that I could possibly do to keep my husband alive.  I couldn’t afford to make one mistake.  I had to be sure that everything was right 24/7 between God and I.  Every meal had to be exactly the right foods with nothing that could possibly cause Bob’s health to decline.  There were times when he would get frustrated with me and tell me that if someone told me to jump, I’d ask them “How high?”  And he was right for that is exactly the way that I was thinking.

In June of 2009 Bob’s health took a sudden dangerous dive.  Everything that we had been doing to help him feel so much better stopped working.  The alternative doctor told him it was time to seek help from a medical doctor.  This is where I had to start letting go of the hold that I thought I had on Bob’s health.  That is where my brokenness began and extreme fear set in.

From July until November 10th that year he was in and out of the hospital for at least a week at a time because of the reactions he would have to the treatments.  His last stay in the hospital lasted 27 days.  As a child, I had developed a great fear of hospitals.  Now I had to go to the hospital for days on in because I so loved my husband and wanted to be right there with him as much as possible.  The first three days of his first stay, I refused to leave him at all.  Finally our four daughters convinced me to allow them to take turns staying with their dad at night and I would stay with him during the day and evening.

It took all of the courage I had to get on that hospital elevator every morning and ride up to his room.  After the elevator doors would slide shut on the way up, I would say aloud, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.  My fear and stress level was through the roof 24/7, but I did my very best to appear calm and wear a mask in front of my husband and everyone else because I wanted to be his greatest encourager and support.

Bob and I were/are both internalizers and would sit in his room for lengths of time without saying anything to each other.  We were both so very lost in our thoughts.  Bob never complained or shared with me what he was thinking nor how he was feeling.  I never told him how I felt either.  I look back on it now and realize that we were both trying to protect each other and be strong for each other.

As each day passed and more problems arose with his health, the more I felt like everything was wildly careening out of control.  I couldn’t feel God at all.  Reading my Bible was impossible.  My scant prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.  I kept holding onto the scrap of faith that I had in hopes that in the end our prayers for healing on this earth were going to be answered.  We were just going through a great test of our faith, I thought.

Then came the morning of November 10th when Bob exited this earth and was welcomed into the arms of his dear Savior.  Any kind of control that I thought I had was jerked out of my hands.  There was nothing this perfectionist could do to make things right.  I purely had not gotten IT right!  I felt like I must have done something wrong or hadn’t performed right and had caused this horrible thing to happen.  God had to be SO disappointed in me!

This is the kind of thinking that has been going on in my head since then……..up until yesterday when I began thinking about the state that I was in during those last months of Bob’s life and the last months of my parents’ lives.  Now I don’t know if I am just a slow processor or what, but suddenly the “light” went on in my head and I heard these words:  “Candy, it was okay that you were spent physically and emotionally.  It was okay that your heart was completely broken and your faith was shattered.  It was okay that you were weak.  It was okay that you couldn’t fix it.  It was okay that you couldn’t read your Bible and got to the point where you just couldn’t pray anymore.  It was okay that your faith wasn’t ‘perfect’ like you thought it should be. It was OKAY!  I was not disappointed in you all this time like you thought I was.  I know you can’t be perfect even though you try so hard to be.  It’s okay!  IT’S REALLY OKAY!”

GRACE.  All this time I haven’t given myself any grace whatsoever, but God’s been pouring His grace out on me.  I believe that He waited until my heart was in just the right place to hear the truth before He revealed it to me.  Our conversation from yesterday is still resounding in my head and in my heart.  A heavy load has been lifted.  I did okay!  I really did okay those last few months in the midst of blatant denial of what was happening and all the anticipatory grief that I was trying to hide!  I don’t have to be perfect!  GRACE.

Have you found yourself locked into this kind of thinking?  If so, join me in extending yourself some grace and in becoming your own best friend.

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IT’S OKAY TO BE VULNERABLE

I would venture to say that most women want to be seen by others as strong women full of courage and strength. After all, God made us to be nurturers and fixers. We become the wife that is there in every way possible for her husband. If children join our family, we become mothers who spend years leading, loving, and training them.

But when our husband dies, our whole world is shaken and the dimensions of it all changes. Vulnerability enters our life like never before. We fight it pretending that we are not that woman who cannot deal with what has been throw at us. We’ve always been able to handle everything in our lives with God’s help. So what reason do we have now to allow ourselves to succumb to vulnerability?

I tried this for the first six months after Bob died. Inside I was so crushed and broken and my heart was deeply hurting every waking minute with what I call that deep, deep soul pain. Finally, I came to the point where I couldn’t pretend to be a super widow any longer. I succumbed to the wave of grief. At first it took me under and kept me under. After awhile it kicked me up to the crest of the wave where I was able to gasp and take in some air. There were times when it threw me up on the sand where I laid completely exhausted until the wave came back inland snatching me back.

I reached out to get help from a licensed Christian psychologist who helped me see that vulnerability is not a bad thing. God was not disappointed in me for being human and experiencing human emotions. It was ok to cry as often as I needed to even if I break down in front of others. It was alright for me to be insecure and afraid. It was normal for me to feel as if I were living in a strange country where no one understood my language. It was okay that my mind was in such a fog that I was easily overwhelmed and could not even concentrate to read my Bible. There was nothing wrong with me questioning God. For a long time I wasn’t even able to pray.

As this time of vulnerability has gone on, I am learning many new things about who I really am as a person – things I never knew about myself. All my life I have strived to be as perfect as I could possibly be. Do you know how much pressure and stress that put on me? I tried my best to be everything my husband and my daughters needed, but I could never be all I wanted to be. Now I realize that I don’t have the capability to reach perfection and meet the needs in my family members lives. And you know what? That’s truly okay. I can be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is helping me get to know God in a whole different way than I believe I could have ever known Him otherwise. I am much more sensitive to His voice. I am so much more aware of His blessings than ever before. My belief that I am not walking alone in the land of widowhood is stronger because somehow my belief that God is really walking with me has gone from head knowledge to heart truth.

Are you willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable? How has vulnerability made positive changes in your life?